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Syrian rebels reportedly release nuns held since December

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By The Los Angeles Times
Sunday, March 9, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

At least a dozen Greek Orthodox nuns kidnapped by Syrian rebels near Damascus in December were released on Sunday, according to Syria's official news agency and Lebanese media reports.

The state-run Syrian news outlet reported that the nuns had been freed and were due to arrive at a Syrian border crossing with Lebanon.

Media accounts indicated that the nuns had been released near the rebel-held Syrian city of Yabroud and transported to the Lebanese border town of Arsaal. The nuns had reportedly been held for months in Yabroud, which is now the focus of a Syrian military offensive.

A Lebanese security delegation was reportedly set to take the nuns back to Syria through an official border crossing at Jdaidet Yabous, on the Syrian side of the frontier. The nuns were then expected to be transported to Damascus, the Syrian capital.

News outlets quoted Syrian Greek Orthodox Bishop Louka al-Khoury, who was at the Syrian border crossing, as confirming the nuns' release and crediting Syrian authorities for their liberation.

The delicate negotiations that led to the nuns' release reportedly involved Syrian and Lebanese officials, as well as representatives of the gulf nation of Qatar, which has long been a major backer of various Syrian rebel factions.

The nuns were kidnapped in December from the St. Thecla Monastery in the historic Christian town of Maaloula, north of Damascus. Islamist rebels overran the town, long a center of Christian pilgrimage.

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